Thank you, Cappy. We gather today to mark the beginning of the academic year, to welcome the class of 2011 and recognize the class of 2008.
The next year will be an important time for the college and the nation. The college will map out the next decade, and the nation will chose a new leader.
The English philosopher Herbert Spencer said, “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” I think this speaks well to the goals of a Vassar education.
At Fall Convocation my freshmen year, VSA President Joe Wildfire told my class that “four years can seem like a long time now, but when you’re back in this chapel with your robes on, this day won’t seem too distant.” I now realize how short this time really is. Four years is the time most of us will spend at this institution, it is also the length of the presidential election cycle. Just after I got here, there was a presidential election, which puts us now in the throws of the next one. This time it seems to have started earlier than ever and the candidates have already raised over $265 million.
By the time I stand up here again in May, the two major political parties will each have a nominee (barring unforeseen circumstances).
As the nation chooses its next leaders, the voices of our generation must be heard. It is our generation that will have to deal (or cope) with the decisions of today’s leaders, so it is vital that we make ourselves heard. It is easy to sit back and think our votes will not matter, but that is how our generation will be sidelined.
When politicians talk about Social Security, it is our benefits they are talking about. Decisions made today have a ripple effect through time. So our generation must be engaged, we must keep track of what is going on, and we must vote. This is the only way we will be sure the leaders of tomorrow will reflect our priorities.
I urge you to look at the candidates; they are not all the same. Pick something you are passionate about and try to find a candidate who matches that view.
Choose a candidate or select an issue, advocate, lobby, research, donate, read, write, and most importantly, vote. Do what you think needs to be done to make this country and our world a better place.
Political engagement must reach from the national level all the way down to this district and city. There is an old saying that all politics is local, and so we must not ignore what’s happening in the communities surrounding and encompassing us. Many of our campus political organizations cover the range of these issues, from national to local.
Our engagement with the community must not end with voting. There are many opportunities to get involved in our surrounding communities. Some of your friends may participate in ESL tutoring at local schools, helping students and teachers by providing needed bilingual assistance. Some of your friends may volunteer at Grace Smith House or other area nonprofits. There are a myriad of opportunities available. Community Action, Religious and Spiritual Life, Vassar After-School Tutoring and many student organizations do vital activities in the community.
We must also not ignore what happens here at Vassar, as decisions made here are important too. This is a year to have your voice heard. At every level of the college, across all areas of policy, from the upcoming renovation of Davison to the process of planning for the coming years, students must be included in a substantive way. So speak up and be heard. Students, and the education we receive here, are the reason this college exists, why professors teach, why administrators do their jobs, and why the VSA leadership works every day.
This year, the VSA leadership has identified three guiding principles: engagement, access, and awareness. These three principles will lead us through our work this year. For each principle, we have identified several initiatives to bring our principles to fruition. These initiatives include items such as student input on teaching and tenure decisions, the renovation of Davison, and addressing student space needs.
As we make decisions this year, we must think not only of today’s students, but tomorrow’s. We must think of more than the classes of 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011; we must think of the classes of 2018 and 2032.
This will be a year for looking at what is coming and planning for the next decade. As Vassar moves forward, we must do so together. No single department “owns” a part of the college; thus every department and office must work together on our common goals.
The student body leadership will also look to this future. We will broaden our horizon to understand the needs of students beyond the time when we will leave this great institution, which is sooner than we think or want. We have choices to make now, and we must build the best future for Vassar we possibly can.
At Vassar, in Poughkeepsie, in New York State, and in the nation, we must shape the future. Get involved and engage the world around us. Come talk to the Executive Board; talk to your dorm or class president, vote in fall and spring elections, the primaries ,and in November. Only with our votes can we make sure the future is one we want to live in.
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Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.